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Williams Act


The Williams Act is a law enacted in the United States in 1968 that provides regulatory guidelines for takeover bids and acquisitions of publicly held companies. It requires potential acquirers to disclose their intentions once they have accumulated 5% or more of the company’s outstanding shares. The Act gives the company’s management and shareholders time to consider the bid and take necessary actions.


The phonetics of the keyword “Williams Act” would be: /ˈwɪliəmz ækt/

Key Takeaways

  1. The Williams Act, passed in 1968, was introduced as a protective measure to decrease hostile takeovers and provide the target company’s shareholders with sufficient information and time to make informed decisions. The Act primarily focuses on the fair treatment of shareholders.
  2. It requires any individual or organization holding 5% or more of a public company’s shares to disclose their holdings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This serves to prevent secret accumulation of a company’s stock. Full and fair disclosure is one of the key aspects of this Act.
  3. Coming under the provisions of the Williams Act, the target company is given time, usually ten days, to respond to the tender offer, which gives them an opportunity to look for better offers, giving shareholders maximized valuation. It ensures that the investor’s rights and interests are consistently protected.


The Williams Act is vital in the field of business and finance as it provides protection for shareholders during takeover attempts of publicly traded companies. Enacted in 1968, the law mandates the acquiring party in a tender offer to disclose critical information about their plans to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the company in question. It sets stringent rules on the timeline and processes for acquisitions, ensuring fairness and transparency in aggressive acquisitions or takeovers. By doing so, it gives company boards of directors enough lead time to make decisions or initiate appropriate defensive strategies, ultimately safeguarding the shareholders’ interests.


The Williams Act serves as a critical tool in the context of corporate governance and stockholder protections. Its primary purpose is to ensure fairness and transparency while handling tender offers, which typically occur if an individual or company decides to acquire another company by buying a substantial amount of its stock. The Act was established to create a balance: to protect shareholders’ interest, prevent the hostile takeover of companies, and also to allow sufficient time for the management of the targeted company to react or even find alternative offers that could be more beneficial to the shareholders. Under the provisions of the Williams Act, any individual or entity acquiring 5% or more of a company’s stock is obligated to disclose the details to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company where the shares are purchased, and all the other key shareholders. It mandates that all material information about the tender offer – the offer terms, the offering party’s identity, source of funds used for the purchase, the purpose of the acquisition, and any related future plans – should be transparently shared. This is done to protect the rights of the shareholders and allow them adequate time and information to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to sell.


The Williams Act refers to United States legislation that lays out requirements for companies engaged in potential merger or acquisition situations. It requires that any business organization or individual investor owning more than 5% of a company’s stock to disclose pertinent information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), including their identity, source of funds used for the purchases, and future plans regarding their holdings in the company. Real-world examples of the Williams Act being put into practice can include:1. Microsoft’s Potential Acquisition of Yahoo: One of the many significant real-life instances of a situation in which the Williams Act might have been used was Microsoft’s bid to acquire Yahoo in 2008. Microsoft made a $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo, which was supposed to be a friendly takeover. However, the disclosure requirements laid out by the Williams Act could have shined a light on elements of the prospective transaction that were less than friendly. 2. Berkshire Hathaway’s Acquisition of Precision Castparts: The Williams Act came into play in a big way during Berkshire Hathaway’s acquisition of Precision Castparts. Berkshire Hathaway, which is headed by Warren Buffett, announced in 2015 that it would acquire Precision Castparts, a manufacturer of complex metal components and products, for $37 billion. Because Berkshire Hathaway’s stake exceeded 5% in Precision Castparts, under the Williams Act, it had to make comprehensive disclosure that was required by the SEC.3. Softbank’s Stake in Uber: Softbank, a multinational conglomerate holding company headquartered in Japan, acquired a significant stake in Uber in 2018. Since their stake was more than 5% of Uber’s stock, according to the guidelines of the Williams Act, SoftBank had to disclose the information about its purchase to the SEC, including its future plans regarding its holdings in Uber. Please note that while these situations may have likely invoked the Williams Act, actual disclosures and legal documents would be needed for confirmation.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Williams Act?

The Williams Act is a federal law that was established in 1968 in the United States. It is named after its sponsor, Senator Harrison A. Williams. This law amended the Securities Exchange Act and established disclosure rules and procedures involving cash tender or exchange offers made directly to shareholders in potential corporate takeover situations.

Why was the Williams Act implemented?

The Williams Act was implemented to protect shareholders from unfair takeover bids and from being exploited by certain sharp practices that would not give them full information on a pending takeover.

What are the requirements under the Williams Act?

Primarily, under the Williams Act, anyone attempting to purchase more than 5% of a company’s stock must disclose their identity and intentions. Second, they must provide a 20 day waiting period after this disclosure before proceeding with the purchase.

How does the Williams Act impact investors?

The Williams Act ensures that all investors receive adequate information before making decisions regarding a potential takeover. This reduces misinformation or deception and ensures an equitable investment environment.

How does the Williams Act affect the company facing a takeover attempt?

The company facing a potential takeover gets more time to react to the situation due to the 20 day waiting period mandated by the Act. This can allow for countermeasures or alternate planning.

Can the Williams Act prevent a takeover?

Not necessarily. The Williams Act doesn’t prevent a takeover, but it does put in place certain requirements and procedures that must be followed during a takeover process, providing protection to shareholders and allowing the company time to react.

What is the penalty for violating the Williams Act?

If the Williams Act is violated, potential consequences can include financial penalties or court injunctions preventing the takeover.

What is the difference between a friendly and unfriendly takeover?

A friendly takeover is when the company being acquired approves of the acquisition, whereas in an unfriendly takeover the target company does not want to be acquired. The Williams Act mainly provides protection in cases of unfriendly takeovers.

Is the Williams Act still being enforced today?

Yes, the Williams Act is still being enforced today and continues to regulate the process of corporate takeovers.

: Where can I find more information about the Williams Act?

: For more detailed information, you can refer to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) official website or consult legal and financial texts that cover securities law.

Related Finance Terms

  • Takeover Bid
  • Securities Exchange Commission (SEC)
  • Tender Offer
  • Shareholder Rights
  • Corporate Control

Sources for More Information

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